The Best Autobiography Writers of All Time

Autobiographies may seem a little top-heavy (or all-the-way-through heavy) with research, but these are people’s own accounts of their own lives.

The research has been lived, rather than done, and the results are in.

We know when we pick up a book, often, whether a person has lived a successful life or not by our own standards. They may be considered notorious, or inspirational. They may also simply be an ordinary person whose name we do not recognize, but who has seen shocking our amazing things happen.

If you want to get your name out there for posterity, an autobiography offers an excellent route and opportunity to shape the narrative of your own life. 

The best autobiography writers are Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Adam Kay, Malala Yousafzai, Anne Frank, Gerald Durrell, Peter Mayle, Frank McCourt and Barack Obama. There’s certainly a fascinating person or series of experiences contained in autobiography form to suit your tastes! 

Image from Wikimedia Commons

What is Autobiography Writing?

Autobiography is a form of writing where a person authors a story of their own life. The prefix auto- is self-reflexive, meaning an action performed upon or in relation to oneself. Biography, as you might know, uses bio- meaning ‘life’ and -graphy meaning ‘writing’ to culminate in a word which describes the action of writing about your own life!

The History of Autobiography Writing

For as long as people have been writing, they have made efforts to record their own experiences. While each of us only have one life, we are capable of learning from the mistakes and successes through reading about the lives of others.

You could think of autobiography as a critical evolutionary tool and method of preserving knowledge for posterity! While there have long been biographers, that is, people who write about other people’s lives (and not their own), there’s also a long historical tradition of significant people writing autobiographies or records of ‘confessions’ about their own lives.

This list includes figures like Julius Caesar!

It’s also worth remembering that the diaries of ordinary people also constitute an autobiography of sorts. While an autobiography often attempts to capture the majority of an entire life, some autobiographies may focus only on a particular period of the author’s life, which they deem to be particularly valuable or of special interest to readers. 

Here’s an interesting article about how everything we write is, in some way, a form of autobiography!

Is Autobiography Writing Popular?

Autobiographies have long been extremely popular.

There’s a desire amongst the masses to read about events in the lives of influential people, particularly when these events are described by the person in question themselves!

Readers also enjoy reading autobiographies written by ordinary people, often which capture a particular place or time well.

Autobiographies often feature on bestseller lists and in bookshop windows.

People have a hunger for information, particularly of a personal or intimate nature, and autobiographies often promise this kind of disclosure to their readers!

Why Do People Read Autobiography Writing?

We derive a lot of pleasure from reading about the relatable life experiences of another person, and we also thoroughly enjoy reading about extreme or unthinkable events in the lives of others.

There are also different kinds of autobiography, which appeal to different tastes and reading preferences.

You might enjoy reading the autobiography of a famous celebrity, or you could prefer an autobiography written by a person who has restored a French farmhouse gradually over many years. 

Who Are the Best Autobiography Writers of All Time?

The best autobiography writers of all time are some of the most famous people of all time.

Nelson Mandela wrote a fascinating autobiography detailing his experiences, as did Gandhi.

Some of the best autobiography writers are also some of the most ordinary (though brave and courageous) people of all time.

There are exceptional autobiographies, like Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt, which have been developed out of diary entries he took while working as a young doctor in the English health system.

Malala Yousafzai was also an ordinary young girl before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Anne Frank was an ordinary girl who was exposed to a period of extreme trial and difficulty during the Second World War.

We enjoy reading autobiographies written by people with qualities we admire, because of the proximity we gain to their ways of thinking through reading their writing, and because of the opportunity an autobiography presents to learn how to be more like another successful or inspirational person.

We also enjoy reading autobiographies to learn about new places: Gerald Durrell and Peter Mayle have both written autobiographies about their time spent in unique places (Corfu in Greece and Provence in France).

People also often use autobiographies to explore aspects of their childhood once they are an adult, able to better appreciate the events they experienced during that time.

Frank McCourt does this in Angela’s Ashes, an autobiography about his experiences as a child in Ireland.

Barack Obama wrote and published some of his early autobiographies before he became President of the United States, so remember that your experiences are always worth recording and sharing, no matter how early-career you are.

Some say that his autobiographies played a role in his being put forward as a presidential candidate!


Anyone can be one of the best autobiography writers of all time.

Though some of the best autobiography writers of all time are extremely famous people, there are also many ordinary people who have attained overwhelming fame simply through writing down and publishing the details of their own lives.

Your own life might seem a little dull to you, but another person could very easily find your particular set of experiences gripping and valuable. Beauty and value are both in the eye of the beholder!